Consultation shows dissatisfaction with council’s clean air proposals for South Gloucestershire

A consultation run by South Gloucestershire Council has revealed public dissatisfaction with its plans to improve air quality.

Only 16% of respondents felt that the council’s 30 proposed measures would be effective at improving air quality in the district, whilst 41% were not sure. 43% concluded they would be “ineffective”.

The main issue people wanted the council to address was to provide more reliable, more accessible and cheaper public transport, felt by many to be a precursor to being able to change travel behaviour.

Addressing traffic congestion was the second most common request as this was perceived to be the main cause of pollution.

Based on data from 2017, South Gloucestershire has an estimated 217 deaths per year attributable to the combined effects of exposure to nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) this represents approximately 9.3% of all deaths of people aged over 25.

The council’s Clean Air Action Plan considers air quality throughout the whole district in addition to two Air Quality Management Areas that have already been declared in Kingswood (and subsequently extended to Warmley along the A420) and in Staple Hill at the Broad Street/ High Street/ Soundwell Road/ Victoria Street crossroads, and the High Street/ Acacia Road/ Pendennis Road junction.

The plan does not include setting up a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) or similar scheme to restrict access to Kingswood and Staple Hill but the council has said that the masterplan being developed for the regeneration of Kingswood is likely to make “significant changes” to vehicle movements and to reduce pollution. This includes pedestrianising part of Regent Street.

Regent Street in Kingswood

In the Clean Air Action Plan, the council is proposing to prioritise actions that will reduce transport emissions, such as reallocating road space for active travel and public transport and improving the active and public transport offer to maximise usage; and actions to reduce emissions from domestic solid fuel burning.

Comments from the consultation include: “Actions are weak at best. Cutting off Kingswood high street to traffic will only push pollution to another road instead. It’s a poor plan and needs completely rethinking.”

Another observed: “Improve public transportation BEFORE penalising private car usage. Public transportation, particularly in more rural areas of South Gloucestershire, is appalling.”

One critic said that reducing parking in new developments would cause parking issues elsewhere, adding: “Public transport will not work for all conditions so people will still need private transport. Electric vehicles are not the panacea as they will remain unaffordable/unworkable for years to come. Please consider the needs of the older population and those with young children who cannot walk or cycle great distance. Little recognition that in some areas there are no practical alternatives to private vehicle ownership…”

In terms of equality, one respondent commented: “Elderly and disabled are forgotten again, many cannot walk, cannot cycle and buses are too far from where they live so are dependent on car or taxi. Wood-burning stoves are seen as cheaper than using full heating and restrictions on this would adversely impact those on lower incomes. Electric vehicles are financially beyond the reach of those on lower and moderate incomes. Children living in rural areas are unlikely to walk or cycle as they may live some distance from the school. No consideration of what happens when there is snow or periods of heavy rain when walking and cycling would not be possible.”

Another criticised the traffic management plans that were introduced at the Hambrook lights in 2019 to improve air quality, saying that drivers are having to burn more fuel by going up to the M32 roundabout and turning back.

The 18-month experimental traffic order, which is still in place) removes the westbound bus lane through the junction to the M32 traffic signals, along with the right-turn facility onto the B4058 from the westbound carriageway of the A4174 Ring Road, the straight-on movement for the B4058 northbound from Frenchay,  and the right-turn facility from the B4058 from Frenchay onto the A4174.

Neighbouring Bath & North East Somerset Council also responded, saying that it supports South Gloucestershire Council’s ambition to improve air quality across the district.

A South Gloucestershire Council spokesperson told The Week In: “The next stage will be to produce the final Clean Air Action Plan, taking into consideration the outcome of the public consultation. We will then seek formal approval of the Plan to enable implementation of the actions to improve air quality across South Gloucestershire.”